Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mundane Faithfulness

What will you do in the mundane days of  faithfulness? Martin Luther

The Megan S. Ott Foundation was established in 2010. Megan, a native of Noblesville, was diagnosed with breast cancer, when she was thirty-two weeks pregnant with her second daughter. Prior to Megan's death, she, her husband and parents established the foundation to assist families dealing with financial expenses involved with cancer treatment. To date, three hundred women have received help.

One of these women, Kara Tippett, a friend of Megan's from high school, came to Indianapolis to speak the Monday before Thanksgiving. Over eight hundred people came to hear her story of cancer and survival.

Honored to be in the audience, I listened as Kara explained the discovery of a lump in her breast a few days after she, her husband and four children moved to Colorado Springs in 2012 to plant a church.

Inspired by Kara's blog, "Mundane Faithfulness" and her book, The Hardest Peace, I was eager to hear this remarkable young woman, who has persevered through multiple treatments as the disease has progressed throughout her body, most recently to her brain. Although she continues to receive medical treatment, she is living with terminal cancer.

Kara chronicled her faith journey from experiences in high school to how she lives with God in suffering. Her remarkable story of welcoming God into her illness, and hearing how she's been faithful to God, leaned on Jesus and approached suffering of any kind was deeply inspirational.

In a quote from her book (page 56) she and her husband, Jason, are discussing problems with their first church in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

     "In the impossibility of walking through this season of life, I remember clinging to Jason at night and asking him if we were going to be alright. It felt like our hearts were going to break and never heal again. He turned to me and gently told me, 'Kara, tomorrow we get to wake up and be faithful. Whatever each step brings and whatever hard comes, people will always disappoint us. But tomorrow, we get to be faithful in that moment.'"

As Kara's cancer spread and she comes to realize she may not live to see her children grow up, she talks about hope - not hope in a cure, but hope in God (page 78).

     "The stomaching of endless pills feels proactive, and I find myself hopeful in a good outcome, but my hope is not in a cure today. My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing 'will be able to separate us from the love of God.'" (Romans 8:39)

Early in her hospitalization, the day after she arrived in Colorado, she told her husband to return to their children so they did not awaken with the stranger who was staying with them.

     "Alone in the hospital room, in a brand-new town, I remembered a question I had asked a group of young girls I had worked with: 'in the absence of comfort and friends, is Jesus enough?' In that cold stark hospital room, with only employed staff as my company, that question echoed through my mind. The answer was sure and the peace was present. It was an answer I was holding tight."

Kara's honesty and realistic approach to a terminal diagnosis inspires by captivating and illustrating a life lived completely with God. She doesn't deny her sadness leaving her husband and children. Letters to each conclude her book.

I invite you to follow her blog and purchase her book. You do not have to be dealing with cancer to receive encouragement and hope for whatever suffering is in your life.

Prayer: God, help me remember that no matter what I am facing, I have the opportunity to get up each day and be faithful to you. I have the assurance that nothing will ever separate me from you, and the reality of your presence and companionship whenever I am alone is enough. Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Rising Womb

John 6:25-35 - "I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "He who comes to me will never be hungry' he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

The week before Christmas, 2010, I made cinnamon rolls to give a few friends. Baking is a way I connect with God, and I was excited to begin. Blessing my hands reminded me I was beginning holy work. After gathering the utensils and ingredients, I lit a candle. I was ready.

My large, brown, glass bowl - the only piece remaining from a three-bowl set Mike and I received for a wedding gift - brought memories of decades of baking. Whenever I make bread or rolls, I use this bowl because it is the perfect size to hold dough that often rises over the edges.

I mixed the ingredients, transferring the sticky dough to the kitchen counter, and began the rhythmic flow of adding flour, rolling the dough, adding more flour until the dough was smooth. Returning the dough to the bowl, now in a different form, I covered it with a towel. 

I was in and out of the kitchen for the next hour. Every time I looked at the bowl, the towel was higher, pushed upward by the expanding dough.

"This is what Mary's womb must have looked like as her pregnancy advanced," I thought. "Here is a picture of Jesus, who eventually called himself, 'the bread of life', right in my own kitchen!"

In that moment, a week before the celebration of Jesus' birth, a familiar expression of Jesus, cradled in a bowl that celebrated new life through marriage, came forth once again in the beauty and mystery of rising dough.

Prayer: Jesus, I love you and the way you come to me, making my fingers sticky with your presence. You are my bread, you promise me daily bread. I set my table early in the morning, waiting for you to rise in my heart and fill my plate. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Conner Prairie Sheep and Mary's Preparation for Birth

One of the advantages of living five minutes from Conner Prairie is I can visit frequently. My first stop is always the barn. I enjoy petting the animals and seeing the babies born throughout the year.

When I went to the animal barn back in the spring, I noticed a mother sheep resting in a corner of the barn almost buried in straw.

"Why does that sheep have so much straw around her?" I asked the volunteer.

"She is preparing to give birth. The straw keeps the dust settled so when the lambs are born, they do not aspirate dust which could lead to difficulty breathing and possibly death."

Reflecting on this lesson from the barn, I remembered Mary, the night Jesus was born. I believe there were more preparations and care for the sheep about to deliver than there were for Mary.

Mary's preparation for Jesus' birth seemingly looks rather sloppy and haphazard - riding on a donkey during the ninth month of pregnancy, walking around Bethlehem trying to find a place to stay, eventually settling in a stable where animals lived.

Jesus' birth was really the culmination of Mary and Joseph's whole lives. Both knew God, both had hearts that were open to God's leading in confusing circumstances, and both embraced with faith and trust God's design for their lives. Jesus' birth was not completely a beginning, but an ending and a beginning of two persons who intimately knew God.

The workers in the barn at Conner Prairie prepared the area so the mother sheep could safely birth her lambs. The preparation that brought Mary and Joseph to a similar place - a barn and stable - came from years of spending time with God, seeking God and celebrating, even in confusion and uncertainty about what the future would bring - God in person.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How Can This Be? - Mary's Question

Scripture: Luke 1: 26-38

The angel, Gabriel, came to visit a young, peasant woman, Mary, one day, announcing she would give birth to God's son. (verses 30-33). I like to image Mary baking bread when the angel appeared. Perhaps her hands were covered with dough, her focus on the shape of the bread forming with each movement of her fingers.

Mary replied to Gabriel, "I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?" (verse 34)

Often viewed as a model of obedience, Mary's question indicated uncertainty and confusion. The angel gave Mary more information about how the pregnancy would occur even sharing details about Elizabeth's pregnancy in advanced age as an additional example of what God can accomplish.

Mary replies, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said." And the angel left her.(verse 38)

We don't know how much time passed between Mary being deeply troubled by the angel's news (verse 29), Mary's question (verse 34), and her acceptance (verse 38).

When serious illness comes, when relationships are impaired, when a beloved friend or family member dies suddenly, when a job loss or relocation happens, we too may be troubled like Mary and say, "How can this be?"

Through prayer, we offer ourselves to God, acknowledging we need God's help to grow through the many faces of circumstances which prompt the question "How can this be?"

Eventually, with God's companionship, strength and encouragement, we can join Mary, with acceptance and say, "I am yours, God. You are with me all of the time and through anything life presents."

Prayer: God, how many times do we cry out, "How can this be?" when we struggle or when we received unexpected blessings. Help us trust you for all parts of life.  Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stocking Stuffers - Ways God Has Filled My Stocking Through The Years

Here are a few thoughts with which God has filled my stocking.

1. Salvation Army ringers are posted at many stores I visit. Usually I make a donation the first time I go to the store after Thanksgiving, but not after. However, last year I had an idea to assuage my guilt that I wasn't donating every time I walked by the bright red kettle.

I asked the ringer if he or she was hungry. Every time, his/her face lit up. I heard these responses:

   "I had to ring through lunch. I am starved."
   "I didn't have time to eat breakfast. I am very hungry."
    "Ringing in a grocery store makes me want to eat.."

Listening to their answers opened a new way of being present to these volunteers. I gave each ringer the choice of a sandwich and drink from the store deli or a meal from a McDonald's just down the street. Smiles of delight and words of gratitude came when I brought the small meal. Each ringer I asked last year (four) accepted my offer. I was delighted to serve nourishment as they volunteered to help others.

2. There are over a hundred names for Jesus, including Emmanuel, Son of God, Alpha and Omega, Comforter, Door of the Sheep, Morning Star, Bread of Life. The star the night Jesus was born shone over the manger where he slept, was fed by and held by Mary and Joseph. The "morning star" in the sky was shining over the "Morning Star" resting in a manger.

3. God's heart looks like Jesus.

4. Mary tenderly placed Jesus in his first bed, a manger, a feeding trough for animals. Another one of Jesus' names is "Bread of Life". The one who became 'food for others' rested in a container where animals ate.

Although we may find candy, and small presents in our stockings, there may also be insights or perspectives about the season that may come our way. Making room for these 'small gifts from God' will fill our stockings with depth, meaning and love.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

From What Perspective Would You Have Liked To Witness The Birth of Christ?

There are many persons, animals and objects who/which are part of the Christmas narrative. Select one every day in Advent. Tell why you chose each one.  Describe the perspective the person, object or animal witnessed  before, during or after the birth of Christ.

For example, I chose the donkey because this animal could hear all of the conversations between Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem, during their time in the stable, and as they left for Egypt. The donkey could have been a wonderful reporter recording the most intimate remarks during and after the day Jesus was born, writing an inspiring and interesting account of the birth and travels.

     "Was Mary patient?" "How did Joseph respond to her?" "What were Joseph's feelings as he walked beside the donkey?" "How did Joseph and Mary process the lack of space to stay with the eminent birth of Jesus?" "What did Mary say during labor?" "What were Joseph's words when Jesus was born?" 'How did Joseph explain to Mary the need to travel to Egypt, again on a donkey with an infant?" "What did Joseph and Mary think when townspeople walked by to look at the family - was there interaction?" "Did anyone bring Mary and Joseph food after Jesus' birth?" "What conversation occurred among the shepherds when they saw Jesus?" "Did they talk to Mary and Joseph?" "Was Jesus a fussy baby?"

The donkey could have answered all of these questions and filled in even more information about the many days he spent with Mary and Joseph.

Which person or animal will you choose among the ones listed below? What are your experiences with these reflections? Let me know what path your reflection follows.

Mary - Joseph - Jesus - donkey - stable - manger - innkeeper - other people traveling to Bethlehem - sheep - shepherds - star - wise men - angel - Simeon - Anna - townspeople of Bethlehem, adults and children,  walking by the manger - merchants -

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Accept - verb - to receive, undertake, consent, to take what is offered.

Acceptance - in human psychology - a person's assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it.

The word, accept, used as a verb, can be a positive experience. I accept your compliment. I accept with pleasure a thoughtful gift. I accept your perspective.

The word, acceptance, in human psychology is much more challenging, often requiring great courage, strength and energy to work through difficult experiences in life. Awareness, identification, causes, solutions are phases of the process. Eventually acceptance may come into the picture. Acceptance of events or circumstances that happen beyond our control does not occur overnight, and involves layers of healing. There is not timetable when acceptance may come.

The young woman who has cut my hair for almost four years recently had a miscarriage. She and her husband were devastated. They are self-described planners, and a miscarriage was not in their timetable for becoming parents. Sending a card after I received her email was my initial response of compassion and care. When I saw her three weeks later she said, "Every day gets better. We're getting better."

Time and the outpouring of love from family and friends, were helping her move from a place of broken-heartedness toward a place of peace and acceptance.

I am no expert on this topic as I struggle to reach a place of acceptance for several challenging areas. I can already see that what acceptance looks like for one person may not be the same for another.

My friend who cuts my hair accepted cards, gestures of love from family and friends, and a visit from her mother who lived out of state. All of these acts of kindness helped her move closer to a place where she could accept what happened, always remembering the baby she lost late in the first trimester.

A lot of us deal with more private or complicated concerns for which we'll never receive cards or loving thoughts from friends and family who live close by or far away. How does acceptance happen for wounds so deep they aren't something you can share?

Here are some suggestions.

1. Acknowledge you cannot walk this path on your own. Ask God for strength  and courage to persevere as you tackle layers of wound by yourself or with a professional.

2. Write about what happened, your feelings, including injustice and unfairness related to what occurred. Being honest as you pour through events or circumstances that robbed you of a full experience of life is helpful.

3.Exercise regularly. Take a walk, swim a few laps, join a yoga class. Working through difficulties takes a lot of energy, but can also generate restlessness which impairs focus and concentration. Exercise can help diffuse excess energy restlessness brings.

4. Discover a creative outlet. Bake cookies. Get a box of crayons or paints. Associate a color with your feelings. Draw a circle or a set of lines using that color. Write a few words that describe what the color means to you in the moment.

5. Do something for someone else.

6. Keep a gratitude journal.

7. Stay close to God in ways you find meaningful.

8. Create a mantra to write on an index card and repeat every morning.
     a. Choose a name for God. _______________________
     b. Add these words:  "Help me find acceptance."
     c. Name the loss or what you are trying to accept.
     d. The mantra I created is - "Comforting shepherd, lead me to find acceptance to be present in and to my body."

9. Take care of yourself. Recognize what steps you have to take when you get overwhelmed or exhausted.

10. Celebrate gains when they occur even if seemingly insignificant. Going to the grocery store, returning a book to the library, teaching a class, employment, all of which when you are working toward acceptance indicates the tasks of daily living are within reach and attainable.

Acceptance frees me to move into other parts of life, not minimizing or forgetting my experiences, but in some way lessening the pain of the hurt. Acceptance may mean continuing with life even though you do not feel well, but realizing you are never alone, God is with you.

I savor, with gratitude, the pockets of peace that come, resting deeply in God's mercy and compassion.